Sense and Sensibility (film)
|Sense and Sensibility|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ang Lee|
|Produced by||Lindsay Doran|
|Screenplay by||Emma Thompson|
|Based on||Sense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen
|Music by||Patrick Doyle|
|Editing by||Tim Squyres|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Running time||136 minutes|
Sense and Sensibility is a 1995 British-American period drama film directed by Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee and based on Jane Austen's 1811 novel of the same name. Emma Thompson wrote the script and stars as Elinor Dashwood, while Kate Winslet plays Elinor's sister Marianne. Actors Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman play their respective suitors.
Producer Lindsay Doran, a longtime admirer of Austen's novel, hired Thompson to write the screenplay. The actress spent four years penning numerous revisions, working on the script between other films as well as into production of the film itself. Doran found studios nervous that Thompson was the credited writer, but Columbia Pictures eventually agreed to act as the film's producer. Though initially intending another actress to portray Elinor, Thompson was persuaded to undertake the part herself, despite the disparity with her character's age.
The film garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews upon release and received many awards and nominations, including three awards and eleven nominations at the 1995 British Academy Film Awards. The film received seven Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture. Emma Thompson received two nominations, for Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay, winning the latter. As of 2012, Thompson remains the only person to have won both acting and writing awards at the Academy Awards, as she previously won the Best Actress award in 1992 for Howards End.
Sense and Sensibility contributed to a resurgence in popularity for Austen's work, and led to many more film and television adaptations in the following years.
When Mr. Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) dies, his wife and three daughters – Elinor (Emma Thompson), Marianne (Kate Winslet) and Margaret (Emilie François) – are left with an inheritance consisting of only £500 a year, with the bulk of the estate of Norland Park left to his son John (James Fleet) from a previous marriage. John and his greedy, snobbish wife Fanny (Harriet Walter) immediately install themselves in the large house; Fanny invites her brother Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant) to stay with them. She frets about the budding friendship between Edward and Elinor and does everything she can to prevent it from developing.
Sir John Middleton (Robert Hardy), a cousin of the widowed Mrs. Dashwood (Gemma Jones), offers her a small cottage house on his estate, Barton Park in Devonshire. She and her daughters move in, and are frequent guests at Barton Park. Marianne meets the older Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman), who falls in love with her at first sight. Competing with him for her affections is the dashing but deceitful John Willoughby (Greg Wise), with whom Marianne falls in love. On the morning she expects him to propose marriage to her, he instead leaves hurriedly for London. Unbeknownst to the Dashwood family, Brandon’s ward Beth, illegitimate daughter of his former love Eliza, is pregnant with Willoughby’s child, and Willoughby’s aunt Lady Allen has disinherited him upon discovering this.
Sir John’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings (Elizabeth Spriggs), invites her daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Palmer (Hugh Laurie and Imelda Staunton), to visit. They bring with them the impoverished Lucy Steele (Imogen Stubbs). Lucy confides in Elinor that she and Edward have been engaged secretly for five years, thus dashing Elinor’s hopes of a future with him. Mrs. Jennings takes Lucy, Elinor, and Marianne to London, where they meet Willoughby at a ball. He barely acknowledges their acquaintance, and they learn he is engaged to the extremely wealthy Miss Grey; Marianne is inconsolable. The clandestine engagement of Edward and Lucy also comes to light. Edward’s mother demands that he break off the engagement. When he refuses, his fortune is taken from him and given to his younger brother Robert (Richard Lumsden).
On their way home to Devonshire, Elinor and Marianne stop for the night at the country estate of the Palmers, who live near Willoughby. Marianne cannot resist going to see Willoughby's estate and walks a long way in a torrential rain to do so. As a result, she becomes seriously ill and is nursed back to health by Elinor after being rescued by Colonel Brandon. After Marianne recovers, the sisters return home. They learn that Miss Steele has become Mrs. Ferrars and assume that she is married to Edward. However, he arrives to explain that Miss Steele has unexpectedly wed Robert Ferrars and Edward is thus released from his engagement. Edward proposes to Elinor and becomes a vicar, whilst Marianne falls in love with and marries Colonel Brandon.
Conception and adaptation
In 1989, Lindsay Doran, the new president of production company Mirage Enterprises, was on a company retreat thinking of potential film ideas when she suggested Sense and Sensibility to her colleagues. The romance novel, published in 1811 as the debut of English author Jane Austen, centred on the Dashwood sisters and their search for financial security after their family of landed gentry suddenly faces destitution. It had been adapted three times prior to the 1995 release, the last adaptation occurring in a 1981 serial. Doran was a longtime fan of Sense and Sensibility, and had vowed in her youth to someday adapt the novel if she ever entered the film industry. She chose to adapt it in particular (rather than another work of Austen's) due to the presence of two female leads. Doran stated, "All of [Austen's] books are funny and emotional, but Sense and Sensibility is the best movie story because it's full of twists and turns. Just when you think you know what's going on, everything is different. It's got real suspense, but it's not a thriller. Irresistible." She also praised the novel for possessing "wonderful characters... three strong love stories, surprising plot twists, good jokes, relevant themes, and a heart-stopping ending."
The producer spent ten years looking for a suitable screenwriter – someone who was "equally strong in the areas of satire and romance" and could think in Austen’s language "almost as naturally as he or she could think in the language of the twentieth century." Doran read screenplays by English and American writers until she came across a series of comedic skits, often in period settings, that actress Emma Thompson had written. Doran believed the humour and style of writing was "exactly what [she’d] been searching for." A week after she and Doran wrapped production on Mirage’s 1991 film Dead Again, the producer selected Thompson to adapt Sense and Sensibility, despite knowing that Thompson had never written a screenplay before. A lover of Austen herself, Thompson first suggested they adapt Persuasion or Emma before agreeing to Doran's proposal.
Beginning in 1990, Thompson would spend four years writing and revising the screenplay, both during and in between shooting other films. She approached the novel as a story of "love and money," noting that some people needed one more than the other. Believing the novel's language to be "far more arcane than in [Austen's] later books," Thompson sought to simplify the dialogue while retaining the "elegance and wit of the original." She observed that in a screenwriting process, first drafts often had "a lot of good stuff in it" but needed to be edited down, and second drafts would "almost certainly be rubbish... because you get into a panic." Thompson credits Doran for "help[ing] me, nourish[ing] me and mentor[ing] me through that process... I learned about screenwriting at her feet." Thompson's first draft was approximately 300 pages, and it received some critical feedback for the way it presented Willoughby and Edward. Doran later recalled that people noted it didn't really "start until Willoughby arrives," with Edward side-lined as "backstory". Thompson and Doran quickly realized that "if we didn't meet Edward and do the work and take that twenty minutes to set up those people... then it wasn't going to work." Gradually the screenplay focused as much on the Dashwood sisters' relationship with each other as it did with their romantic interests.
During the writing process, executive producer Sydney Pollack stressed that the film be understandable to modern audiences, and that it be made clear why the Dashwood sisters could not just get a job. "I'm from Indiana; if I get it, everyone gets it," he said. Thompson believed that Austen was just as comprehensible in a different century, "You don't think people are still concerned with marriage, money, romance, finding a partner? Jane Austen is a genius who appeals to any generation." She was keen on emphasising the realism of the Dashwoods' predicament in her screenplay, and inserted scenes to make the differences in wealth more apparent to modern audiences. She made the Dashwood family richer than in the book and inputted scenes to help contrast their early wealth with their later financial predicament; for instance, because it might have been confusing to viewers that one could be poor and still have servants, Elinor is made to address a large group of servants at Norland Park early in the film for viewers to remember when they saw their few servants at Barton Cottage.
In possession of a screenplay draft, Doran next had to pitch the idea to various studios in order to finance the film, but found that many were wary of Thompson as the screenwriter, viewing her as too risky. Columbia Pictures executive Amy Pascal supported Thompson's involvement, and agreed to sign as the producer and distributor. Despite not having heard of Austen prior to filming, Taiwanese director Ang Lee was hired due to his work in the 1993 family comedy film The Wedding Banquet, which he co-wrote, produced, and directed. Doran felt that his films, which depicted complex family relationships amidst a social comedy context, were a good fit with Austen's storylines. She recalled, "The idea of a foreign director was intellectually appealing even though it was very scary to have someone who didn't have English as his first language." The producer sent Lee a copy of Thompson's script, to which he replied that he was "cautiously interested." Fifteen directors were interviewed, but according to Doran, Lee was one of the few who "knew where the jokes were" and told them he wanted the film to "break people's hearts so badly that they'll still be recovering from it two months later."
From the beginning, Doran desired that Sense and Sensibility should appeal to both a core audience of Austen aficionados as well as younger viewers attracted to romantic comedy films; she felt that Lee's involvement prevented the film from becoming "just some little English movie" that appealed only to "audiences in Devon" instead of to "the whole world." Lee explained, "I thought they were crazy: I was brought up in Taiwan, what do I know about 19th-century England? About halfway through the script it started to make sense why they chose me. In my films I've been trying to mix social satire and family drama. I realized that all along I had been trying to do Jane Austen without knowing it. Jane Austen was my destiny. I just had to overcome the cultural barrier." Because Thompson and Doran had worked on the screenplay for so long, Lee described himself at the time as a "director for hire," as he was unsure "where [his] position lay." He spent six months in England "learn[ing] how to make this movie, how to do a period film, culturally... and how to adapt to the major league film industry."
In January 1995, Thompson presented a draft to Lee, Doran, co-producer Laurie Borg, and others working on the production, and spent the next two months "revis[ing] the script constantly" based upon their feedback. Thompson would continue making revisions throughout production of the film, including altering scenes due to budgetary concerns, adding dialogue improvements, and flexibly changing certain aspects to better fit the actors. Brandon's confession scene, for instance, initially included flashbacks and stylised imagery before Thompson decided it was "emotionally more interesting to let Brandon tell the story himself and find it difficult."
The casting process began in February 1995, though some of the actors met with Thompson in 1994 to help her conceptualize the script. Thompson's hoped that Doran would cast Natasha and Joely Richardson, the daughters of Vanessa Redgrave, as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Lee wanted Thompson herself to play Elinor, to which the actress replied that at age 35, she was too old for the 19-year-old character. Lee then suggested Elinor's age be changed to 27, which would also have had the effect of making the reality of spinsterhood easier for modern audiences to understand. Actress Kate Winslet initially intended to audition for the role of Marianne but the director disliked her work in Heavenly Creatures, causing her to audition for the lesser part of Lucy Steele. However, the actress pretended she had heard the audition was still for Marianne, and won the part based on a single reading. Thompson later noted that despite being a nineteen-year-old "with the prospect of such a huge role" before her, Winslet approached the part "energised and open, realistic, intelligent, and tremendous fun."
Thompson wrote the part of Edward Ferrars with actor Hugh Grant in mind, and he agreed to receive a lower salary in order to fit with the film's budget. Grant called her screenplay "genius," explaining "I've always been a philistine about Jane Austen herself, and I think Emma's script is miles better than the book and much more amusing." Grant's casting was met with criticism from the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), who felt that he was too handsome for the part.
Thompson met her future husband Greg Wise, who played John Willoughby, whilst filming. He briefly dated Winslet during the production, and she later set him up with Thompson after Thompson's divorce with Kenneth Branagh was completed. Also appearing in the film was Alan Rickman, who appears as Col. Christopher Brandon. Thompson was pleased that Rickman was able to demonstrate the "extraordinary sweetness [of] his nature," as he had played "Machiavellian types so effectively" in other films. Twelve-year-old Emilie François, appearing as Margaret Dashwood, was one of the last people cast in the production, and had no professional acting experience. Thompson praised the young actress in her production diaries, "Emilie has a natural quick intelligence that informs every movement – she creates spontaneity in all of us just by being there."
Thompson contacted many actors appearing in the film with an early draft of her screenplay, and was happy that Lee eventually cast five of them. They included Grant, Robert Hardy (as Sir John Middleton), Harriet Walter (as Fanny Ferrars Dashwood), Imelda Staunton (as Charlotte Jennings Palmer), and Hugh Laurie (as Mr. Palmer). Thompson noted of Laurie's casting, "There is no one [else] on the planet who could capture Mr. Palmer's disenchantment and redemption so perfectly, and make it funny." Other cast members included Gemma Jones as Mrs. Dashwood, James Fleet as John Dashwood, Elizabeth Spriggs as Mrs. Jennings, Imogen Stubbs as Lucy Steele, Richard Lumsden as Robert Ferrars, Tom Wilkinson as Mr. Dashwood, and Lone Vidahl as Miss Grey.
According to Linda Troost, the costumes used in Sense and Sensibility helped emphasise the class and status of the various characters, particularly among the Dashwoods. They were created by Jenny Beavan and John Bright, a team of designers who first began working together in 1984. In April 1995, Thompson noted that the pair wished "they had three more weeks but have done truly great work." The two attempted to create accurate period dress, for instance reflecting Fanny's shallow personality with "flashy, colourful" dresses. Edward's buttoned-up appearance represents his "repressed" personality, and he shows little skin.
For Brandon's costumes, Beavan and Bright consulted with Thompson and Lee and decided to have him project an image of "experienced and dependable masculinity." Brandon is first seen in black, but later he wears sporting gear in the form of corduroy jackets and shirtsleeves. His rescue of Marianne has him transforming into the "romantic Byronic hero", sporting an unbuttoned shirt and loose cravat. In conjunction with his tragic backstory, Brandon's "flattering" costumes help appeal him to the audience.
Each of the 100 extras used in the London ballroom scene, depicting "soldiers and lawyers to fops and dowagers," don visually distinct costumes. Beavan was later the creative force behind the costumes seen in the 1996 television drama Emma, another Austen adaptation. Costumes worn by Thompson and Winslet were later displayed at "Dressing the Stars: British Costume Design at the Academy Awards," a summer 2011 exhibition held in Bath, Somerset.
The film was budgeted at US $16 million, the largest Ang Lee had yet received as well as the largest awarded to an Austen film that decade. In the wake of the success of Columbia's 1994 film Little Women, the American studio authorised Lee's "relatively high budget" out of an expectation that it would be another cross-over hit and yield high box office returns. Nevertheless, Doran called it a "low budget film" and many of the ideas Thompson and Lee came up with – such as an early dramatic scene depicting Mr. Dashwood's bloody fall from a horse – were deemed unfilmable from a cost perspective.
Rather than focus on period details, Lee wanted his film to concentrate on telling a good story. He showed the cast select adaptations of novels, including Barry Lyndon and The Age of Innocence, which he believed to be "great movies; everybody worships the art work, [but] it's not what we want to do." Lee criticised the latter film for lacking "energy," in contrast to the "passionate tale" of Sense and Sensibility.
The cast and crew experienced a "slight culture shock" with Lee on a number of occasions. He expected the assistant directors to be the "tough ones" and keep production on schedule, while they expected the same of him; this led to a slower schedule in the early stages of production. Additionally, according to Thompson the director became "deeply hurt and confused" when she and Grant made suggestions for certain scenes, which was something that was not done in his native country. Lee ended up losing sleep because he felt his authority was being undermined, though this was gradually resolved as he grew used to their methods. According to Thompson, Lee "arrived on set with the whole movie in his head" and the cast "grew to trust his instincts so completely," making fewer and fewer suggestions. Lee paid particular attention to landscapes and body language.
Lee became known for his "frightening" tendency to not "mince [his] words". The director often had the actors do numerous takes for certain scenes in order to get the perfect shot, and was not afraid to call something "boring" if he disliked it. Thompson later recalled the director would "always come up to you and say something unexpectedly crushing", such as asking her not to "look so old." She also commented, however, "he doesn't indulge us but is always kind when we fail." Due to Thompson's extensive acting experience, the director encouraged her to practice t'ai chi to "help her relax [and] make her do things simpler." Other actors soon joined them in meditating – according to Doran, it "was pretty interesting. There were all these pillows on the floor and these pale-looking actors were saying, 'What have we got ourselves into?' [Lee] was more focused on body language than any director I've ever seen or heard of." He suggested Winslet read books of poetry and report back to him in order to best understand her character. He also had Thompson and Winslet live together to develop their characters' sisterly bond. Many of the cast took lessons in etiquette and riding side-saddle.
Lee found that he had to dissuade many of the actors from using a "very stagy, very English tradition. Instead of just being observed like a human being and getting sympathy, they feel they have to do things, they have to carry the movie." Grant in particular often had to be restrained from giving an "over-the-top" performance; Lee later recalled that the actor is "a show stealer. You can't stop that. I let him do, I have to say, less 'star' stuff, the Hugh Grant thing ... and not (let) the movie serve him, which is probably what he's used to now." For the scene in which Elinor learns Edward is unmarried, Thompson found inspiration from her reaction to her father's death. Grant had been unaware that Thompson would cry through most of his speech, and the actress attempted to reassure him, "'There's no other way, and I promise you it'll work, and it will be funny as well as being touching.' And he said, 'Oh, all right,' and he was very good about it." Lee had one demand for the scene, that Thompson avoid the temptation to turn her head towards the camera.
Filming of Sense and Sensibility commenced in mid-April 1995 at a number of locations in Devon, beginning with Saltram House (standing in for Norland Park), where Winslet and Jones shot the first scene of the production together reading about Barton Cottage. As Saltram was a National Trust property, co-producer James Schamus had to sign a contract before production began, and staff with the organization remained on set to carefully monitor the filming. Production later returned to shoot several more scenes, finishing there on 29 April. The second location of filming, Flete House, stood in for part of Mrs. Jennings' London estate, where Edward first sees Elinor with Lucy. Representing Barton Cottage was a Flete Estate stone cottage, which Thompson called "one of the most beautiful spots we've ever seen."
Early May saw production at the "exquisite" village church in Berry Pomeroy for the final wedding scene. From the tenth to the twelfth of May, Marianne's first rescue sequence was shot depicting her encounter with Willoughby. Logistics were difficult, as the scene was set upon a hill during a rainy day. Lee shot around 50 takes, with the actors becoming soaked under rain machines; this led to Winslet eventually collapsing from hyperventilation. Further problems occurred midway through filming, when Winslet contracted phlebitis in her leg, developed a limp, and sprained her wrist after falling down a staircase. Thompson also experienced intense back pain on the final days of filming and was treated with acupuncture and Indocid.
From May to July, production also took place at a number of other National Trust estates across England. Trafalgar House and Wilton House in Wiltshire stood in for the grounds of Barton Park and the London Ballroom respectively. Mompesson House, an eighteenth-century estate located in Salisbury, represented Mrs. Jennings' sumptuous townhouse. Sixteenth-century Montacute House in South Somerset was the setting for the Palmer estate of Cleveland House.Sense and Sensibility was also shot at Compton Castle in Devon and at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
Composer Patrick Doyle, who had previously worked with his friend Emma Thompson in the films Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Dead Again, was hired to produce the music for Sense and Sensibility. Tasked by the director to select existing music or compose new "gentle" melodies, Doyle wrote a "stifled" score that reflected the film's events. He explained, "You had this middle-class English motif, and with the music you would have occasional outbursts of emotion." Doyle noted that the score "becomes a little more grown-up" as the story progresses to one of "maturity and an emotional catharsis." The score contains romantic elements and has been described as a "restricted compass... of emotion" with "instruments [that] blend together in a gentle sort of way."National Public Radio noted that as a reflection of the story, the score is a "little wistful... and sentimental."
Two songs are sung by Marianne in the film, with lyrics adapted from seventeenth-century poems; Lee believed that the two songs conveyed the "vision of duality" visible both in the novel and script. The second song, Lee opined, expressed Marianne's "mature acceptance," intertwined with a "sense of melancholy". The melody of "Weep You No More Sad Fountains", Marianne's first song, appears in the opening credits, while her second song's melody features again during the ending credits, this time sung by dramatic soprano Jane Eaglen. Doyle had to write Winslet's songs prior to filming began. The composer received his first Academy Award nomination for his score.
Thompson and Doran discussed how much of the love stories to depict, as the male characters spend much of the novel off-stage. The screenwriter had to carefully balance how much screentime she gave to the male leads, noting in her film production diary that such a decision would "very much lie in the editing." Thompson wrote "hundreds of different versions" of romantic storylines. She considered having Edward re-appear midway through the film before deciding that it would not work as "there was nothing for him to do." Thompson also opted to exclude the duel scene between Brandon and Willoughby, which is present in the novel, because it "only seemed to subtract from the mystery." She and Doran agonized about when and how to input Brandon's backstory, as they wanted to prevent viewers from becoming bored. Thompson described the process of reminding audiences of Edward and Brandon as "keeping plates spinning".
The film omits the characters of Lady Middleton and her children, as well as that of Ann Steele, Lucy's sister. A scene was shot of Brandon finding his ward in a poverty stricken area in London, but this was edited out. Thompson's script included a scene of Elinor and Edward kissing, as the studio "couldn't stand the idea of these two people who we've been watching all the way through not kissing." However, it was one of the first scenes cut during the editing process: the original version was over three hours, Lee was less interested in the story's romance, and Thompson found a kissing scene to be inappropriate. The scene was still included in marketing materials and the film trailer. Thompson and Doran also cut out a scene depicting a remorseful Willoughby when Marianne is sick. Doran said that despite it "being one of the great scenes in book history," they could not get it to fit into the film.
Themes and analysis
Thompson's screenplay has been noted for featuring significant alterations to the characters of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. In the novel, the former embodies "sense" and the latter, "sensibility", but Lee's film turns these two characteristics around. Audience members are meant to view self-restrained Elinor as the person in need of reform, rather than her impassioned sister. To better contrast them, Marianne and Willoughby's relationship includes an "erotic" invented scene in which the latter requests a lock of her hair – a direct contrast with Elinor's "reserved relationship" with Edward. Another character altered for modern viewers is Margaret Dashwood, who conveys "the frustrations that a girl of our times might feel at the limitations facing her as a woman in the early nineteenth century." Thompson uses Margaret for exposition in order to detail contemporary attitudes and customs. For instance, Elinor explains to a curious Margaret – and by extension, the audience – why their half-brother inherits the Dashwood estate. Margaret's altered storyline, now containing interest in fencing and geography, also allows audience members to see the "feminine" side of Edward and Brandon, as they become father or brother figures to her.
When adapting the characters for film, Thompson found that in the novel, "Edward and Brandon are quite shadowy and absent for long periods," and that "making the male characters effective was one of the biggest problems. Willoughby is really the only male who springs out in three dimensions." Several major male characters in Sense and Sensibility were consequently altered significantly from the novel in an effort to appeal to contemporary audiences. Grant's Edward and Rickman's Brandon are "ideal" modern males who display an obvious love of children as well as "pleasing manners", especially when contrasted with Laurie's Palmer. Thompson's script both expanded and omitted scenes from Edward's storyline, including the deletion of an early scene in which Elinor assumes that a lock of hair found in Edward's possession is hers, when in actuality it belongs to Lucy. These alterations have been viewed as an effort to make him more realised and honourable than in the novel and increase his appeal to viewers. The character of Brandon also sustains alterations; Thompson's screenplay has his storyline directly mirroring Willoughby's – they are both similar in appearance, share a love of music and poetry and rescue Marianne in the rain while on horseback.
Writing for The Cambridge Companion to Literature on Screen, Linda Troost discussed the "fusion adaptation" – a mixture of Hollywood style with the British heritage film genre, designed to appeal to a wide range of viewers. Tracing its origin to the BBC's unsuccessful 1986 Austen adaptation Northanger Abbey, Troost noted that Lee's production "exaggerat[ed] social differences for the benefit of viewers not familiar with the book" and prominently featured "radical feminist and economic issues" while "paradoxically endors[ing] the conservative concept of marriage as a woman's goal in life." However, Troost believed that regardless of its American producers, Sense and Sensibility is faithful to the heritage genre through its use of locations, costumes, and attention to details. Andrew Higson noted that while Sense and Sensibility includes commentary on sex and gender, it fails to pursue issues of class. Thompson's script, he wrote, displays a "sense of impoverishment [but] is confined to the still privileged lifestyle of the disinherited Dashwoods. The broader class system is pretty much taken for granted."
Marketing and release
In the United States, Sony and Columbia Pictures released Sense and Sensibility on a "relatively slow" schedule when compared to mainstream films, first premiering it on 13 December 1995. Believing that a limited release would position the film both as an "exclusive quality picture" and increase its chances of winning Academy Awards, Columbia dictated that its first weekend involve only seventy cinemas in the US; it opened in eleventh place and earned $721,341. The film's release was slowly expanded until it was present in over one thousand cinemas across the US. To gain the greatest benefit of the publicity surrounding Academy Award nominees, the film's release was timed to coincide with "Oscar season".Sense and Sensibility's release saw several brief increases both when the nominees were announced and during the time of the ceremony in late March. By the end of its release in the US, it garnered an "impressive" total domestic gross of $43,182,776.
Due to Austen's reputation as a serious author, the producers were able to rely on high-brow publications to help market their film. Near the time of its US release, large spreads in The New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, Film Comment, and other media outlets featured columns on Lee's production. In late December, Time magazine declared it and Persuasion to be the best films of 1995. Andrew Higson referred to all this media exposure as a "marketing coup" because it meant the film "was reaching one of its target audiences." Meanwhile, most promotional images featured the film as a "sort of chick flick in period garb." New Market Press published Thompson's screenplay and film diary; in its first printing, the hard cover edition sold 28,500 copies in the US. British publisher Bloomsbury released a paperback edition of the novel containing film pictures, same title design, and the cast's names on the cover, whilst Signet Publishing in the US printed 250,000 copies instead of the typical 10,000 a year; actress Julie Christie read the novel in an audiobook released by Penguin Audiobooks.Sense and Sensibility increased dramatically in terms of its book sales, ultimately hitting tenth place on the The New York Times Best Seller list for paperbacks in February 1996.
In the United Kingdom, Sense and Sensibility was released on 23 February 1996 in order to "take advantage of the hype from Pride and Prejudice", another popular Austen adaptation recently released. Columbia Tristar's head of UK marketing noted that "if there was any territory this film was going to work, it was in the UK." After receiving positive responses from previewing audiences members, marketing strategies focused on selling it as both a costume drama and as a film attractive to mainstream audiences. Attention was also paid to marketing Sense and Sensibility internationally. Because the entire production cycle had consistently emphasised it as being "bigger" than a normal British period drama literary film, distributors avoided labelling it as "just another English period film." Instead, marketing materials featured quotations from populist media outlets such as The Daily Mail, which compared the film to Four Weddings and a Funeral. Worldwide, the film ultimately grossed $134,582,776, a sum that was considered a box office success. It had the largest box office gross out of the Austen adaptations of the 1990s.
The film received a review score of 98 percent according to review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, indicating critical acclaim, which summarised that "Sense and Sensibility is an uncommonly deft, very funny Jane Austen adaptation, marked by Emma Thompson's finely tuned performance." It landed on more than one hundred top-ten lists. In her work Jane Austen on film and television: A critical study of the adaptations, Sue Parrill praised the 1995 film, writing that with "a sterling screenplay, a high-powered cast, a talented director, and a delightful soundtrack, this film is a winner in all respects." Film critic John Simon gave praise to most of the film, particularly focusing on Thompson's performance, though he criticised Grant for being "much too adorably bumbling... he urgently needs to chasten his onscreen persona, and stop hunching his shoulders like a dromedary."
In a positive review, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle lauded the film for containing a sense of urgency "that keeps the pedestrian problems of an unremarkable 18th century family immediate and personal." LaSalle concluded that the adaptation has a "right balance of irony and warmth. The result is a film of great understanding and emotional clarity, filmed with an elegance that never calls attention to itself." Writing for Variety magazine, Todd McCarthy observed that the film's success was assisted by its "highly skilled cast of actors", as well as its choice of Lee as director. McCarthy clarified, "Although [Lee's] previously revealed talents for dramatizing conflicting social and generational traditions will no doubt be noted, Lee's achievement here with such foreign material is simply well beyond what anyone could have expected and may well be posited as the cinematic equivalent of Kazuo Ishiguro writing The Remains of the Day."
In 2008, The Independent ranked it as the third best Austen adaptation of all time, opining that Lee "offered an acute outsider's insight into Austen in this compelling 1995 interpretation of the book [and] Emma Thompson delivered a charming turn as the older, wiser, Dashwood sister, Elinor." Wendy S. Jones, author of Consensual Fictions: Women, Liberalism, And The English Novel, praised Thompson for her fidelity to the source material, referring to the film as "one of the most authentic" of the adaptations of the 1990s.
Awards and nominations
Out of the Austen adaptations of the 1990s, Sense and Sensibility received the most recognition from Hollywood. It garnered seven Academy Award nominations at the 68th Academy Awards ceremony, where Thompson received the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, making her the only person to have won an Oscar for both her writing and acting (Thompson won the Best Actress award for Howards End, in 1993). The film also was the recipient of twelve BAFTA nominations at the 49th British Academy Film Awards; Sense and Sensibility won for Best Film, Best Actress in a Leading Role (for Thompson), and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (for Winslet). The film also received awards and nominations at the 53rd Golden Globe Awards, the 1st Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, and the 2nd Screen Actors Guild Awards. The film won the Golden Bear at the 46th Berlin International Film Festival.
Legacy and influence
Sense and Sensibility was the first English-language period adaptation of an Austen novel to appear in cinemas in over fifty years. The year 1995 saw a resurgence of popularity for Austen's works, as Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice both rocketed to critical and financial success. The two adaptations helped draw more attention to the previously little known 1995 television film Persuasion, and led to more Austen adaptations in the following years. Between 1995 and 1996, six Austen adaptations were ultimately released onto film or television.
The filming of these productions led to a surge in popularity at many of the landmarks and locations depicted; according to scholar Sue Parrill, they became "instant meccas for viewers." When Sense and Sensibility was released in cinemas, Town & Country published a six-page article entitled "Jane Austen's England", which focused on the landscape and sites shown in the film. A press book released by the studio as well as Thompson's published screenplay and diaries listed all the filming locations, helping to boost tourism. Saltram House for instance was carefully promoted during the film's release, and saw a 57 percent increase in attendance. In 1996, JASNA's membership increased by fifty percent.
As the mid-1990s productions included four Austen films, little room was left to adapt the author's other novels. In his book Film England: Culturally English Filmmaking since the 1990s, Andrew Higson argued that the adaptations left a "variety of successors" in the genres of romantic comedy and costume drama, as well as with films featuring strong female characters. Cited examples included Mrs Dalloway (1997), Mrs. Brown (1997), Shakespeare in Love (1998), and Bridget Jones's Diary (2001). In 2008, Andrew Davies, the screenwriter of Pride and Prejudice, adapted Sense and Sensibility for television. Viewing Lee's film as too sentimental, Davies' production featured events found in the novel but excluded from Thompson's screenplay, such as Willoughby's seduction of Eliza and his duel with Brandon. Davies also cast actors closer to the ages in the source material.
Sense and Sensibility has maintained its popularity into the twenty-first century. In 2004, Louise Flavin referred to the 1995 film as "the most popular of the Austen film adaptations," and in 2009, another writer attributed it and Pride and Prejudice to "confirm[ing] the massive popularity of Austen adaptation." In 2011, The Guardian film critic Paul Laity named it his favourite film of all time, partly because of its "exceptional screenplay, crisply and skilfully done." Journalist Zoe Williams credits Thompson as the person most responsible for Austen's popularity, explaining in 2007 that Sense and Sensibility "is the definitive Austen film and that's largely down to her." The popularity of both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice led to the BBC and ITV releasing their Austen adaptations from the 1970s and 1980s onto DVD. Analysing Austen for classroom application, Flavin called Lee's film "one of the most useful as a gateway into Austen's novels."
Furthermore, the film is credited with helping make Kate Winslet a recognisable movie star.
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